In case you're wondering, Kady Cross' "The Strange Case of Finley Jayne" is apparently a prequel to the forthcoming novel "The Girl in the Steel CorseIn case you're wondering, Kady Cross' "The Strange Case of Finley Jayne" is apparently a prequel to the forthcoming novel "The Girl in the Steel Corset." But this little steampunk novella stands pretty well on its own -- it has a sensible butt-kicking heroine, a dash of classic horror, and some decent writing (albeit with some anachronisms).
Only a few hours after being fired from her job (for punching a governess), Finley Jayne is offered a new position: companion to Lady Morton's teenage daughter Phoebe. The job seems too good to be true -- she gets a beautiful room, Phoebe's old clothes, and even is brought to balls and parties under the pretense of being a distant relation.
However, she is uneasy about Phoebe's older fiancee, Lord Vincent. Not only is Lord Vincent creepy and twice her age, but he is also still obsessed with his dead wife, Cassandra... who looked exactly like Phoebe. Finley sets out to find out what devious plans he may have for Phoebe, and her greatest ally may be her secret, superhuman dark side.
There is honestly not enough steampunk in the world, and "The Strange Case of Finley Jayne" is a decent example of the genre -- we've got clockwork automatons, steam carriages, robotic horses and a bit of "Frankensteinian" mad science. There are still some unanswered questions (Finley's dark side and superhuman strength), but presumably the full-length novel will explain that.
Cross' prose is fairly good -- it's not exceptional, but it's solid enough, albeit with some comments that sound a little too modern (Finley refers to Lord Vincent's plans as "icky"). And while the first couple chapters feel a little fluffy, the story tightens up and becomes much darker with the introduction of Lord Vincent, although the subplot about Phoebe's boyfriend seemed extraneous.
And Finley is a very, very likable heroine -- she's strong, self-reliant, sensible and intelligent. She also has a Hyde side (see, I can reference 19th-century horror too!), which allows her incredible strength and almost gleeful aggression that she has to keep bottled up. And I can't help but hope that we'll see more of Lady Morton, a clever noblewoman who recognizes a good bodyguard for her daughter when she sees one.
"The Strange Case of Finley Jayne" is a solid introduction to the world of Kady Cross' Victorian steampunk/urban-fantasy series, and leaves me anticipating whatever comes next for Finley Jayne. ...more
Every child wants to be whisked away to a magical land, have adventures, and set out on a fantastical quest against a tyrant.
It's a pretty typical faEvery child wants to be whisked away to a magical land, have adventures, and set out on a fantastical quest against a tyrant.
It's a pretty typical fantasy storyline as well, and it takes something special to make such stories stand out. Catherynne Valente's "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making" is an enchanting example, filled with delightful nonsense, wryly witty prose, and a wonderfully oddball world that reminds me of a more lyrical Lewis Carroll.
A young girl named September is whisked away from her boring Nebraska home by the Green Wind, who takes her to Fairyland. But September soon finds herself traveling through Fairyland herself, encountering a soap golem, a half-library wyvern named A-Through-L, a wairwulf, the Perverse and Perilous Sea with its golden beaches, The House Without Warning, gnomish customs agents, a jeweled key, a migration of bicycles.
She also is given a quest by a pair of witches -- find the magical spoon that the cruel Marquess stole from their dead brothers. So she and the Wyverary set out to the city of Pandemonium, but soon find themselves (and a flying leopard named Saturday) on a new quest, with overwhelming results for all the people of
Normally, Catherynne Valente has a lush, lyrical, sensual writing style, and there's a fair amount of that in this book ("... the moon slowly fall down into the horizon and all the dark morning stars turn in the sky like a silver carousel"). Her Fairyland is a weird, sometimes dangerous place filled with countless oddball creatures (migrating bicycles!), making her story feel like a more plotcentric "Alice in Wonderland."
But since this book is meant for children, she also weaves in a wry, arch style that reminds me of some classic British prose (“As you might expect, the geographical location of the capital of Fairyland is fickle and has a rather short temper"). This gets a little twee sometimes, but Valente also weaves in a bittersweet thread as the story goes on, as well as some dark, delicately heartrending moments.
It takes a little while to warm up to September, since she is initially Heartless (like many children), and doesn't care much about what worry she might cause her parents. Then again, it's pleasant to have a heroine who goes happily into another world without moping about going home -- and despite being Heartless, September proves herself to be a sweet, compassionate girl who is just childlike enough to accept the weirdness.
Catherynne Valente blends her velvety prose with a quirky magical twist in"The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making." And she leaves the door to Fairyland open... just in case. ...more
Everyone has one -- an older relative who disapproves of you unless you do what she wishes, and isn't nearly as nice as she pretends to be.
But "BlackEveryone has one -- an older relative who disapproves of you unless you do what she wishes, and isn't nearly as nice as she pretends to be.
But "Black Maria" turns out to be even worse than your average annoying relative, in this engaging, humourous and chilling fantasy novel. Diana Wynne-Jones spins a fantastical story of witchcraft and revenge, all centering on the elderly lady who sweetly lords it over Cranbury-on-Sea.
After her father is apparently killed in a car accident, Mig and her family go to stay with Aunt Maria, mainly because her mother feels guilty. Aunt Maria is very prim and very sweet, and makes a point of guilting people into doing what she wants. Life revolves around Aunt Maria's tea parties, and the men and children act like automatons.
Mig and her brother Chris hate it there, despite the sad ghost who appears in Chris's room. But they start to suspect that magic may be at work, and that Aunt Maria may be at the center of it. When Chris annoys her, she transforms him into a wolf. Now Mig must uncover a magical plot that stretches back over the decades -- and is the key to dethroning Aunt Maria.
It's hard enough to deal with such elderly, sickly-sweet relatives if they are normal. Imagine if they are cold-hearted witches, who turn their own daughters into wolves. And if Diana Wynne-Jones was trying to make people feel lucky for not having an Aunt Maria, then she succeeds beautifully.
Jones paints a chilling picture of Cranbury -- sort of a "Stepford Wives" situation, except it's Stepford Husbands and Kids, all slaves to the stifling sweetness of Aunt Maria. The one weak spot is the ending -- it's not a terribly bad ending, but it is kind of weak, especially compared to the quiet menace of the past several chapters.
Mig is a likable character, although her rebellious brother Chris comes across as the more engaging of the main characters, and readers might want to kick her meek, submissive mother. Aunt Maria is the most frighteningly real, from her outdated opinions to her pushy sweetness; she's horrified at girls wearing pants, eating fish'n'chips for dinner, and favors boys over girls. Even worse, she genuinely believes that she is a wonderful person.
Take the most irritating old lady imaginable... and give her evil magic powers. That's the chilling picture painted in "Black Maria," which will make readers intensely grateful that they aren't Chris and Mig. ...more
Time travel is every person's fantasy at one point or another... but in "A Tale of Time City," it really isn't nearly as fun as you would expect. DianTime travel is every person's fantasy at one point or another... but in "A Tale of Time City," it really isn't nearly as fun as you would expect. Diana Wynne-Jones spins up an elaborate, wryly humorous scifi/fantasy where it turns out that time travel is a bit more complex than anyone expected, with plenty of memorable characters and weird time periods.
It's London, 1939, and the Blitz is looming over London. Vivian Smith is leaving to stay in the country with a cousin, only to be dragged into another world by a strange boy. His name is Jonathan Lee and his younger cousin Sam is helping him. They think that she is the extremely important Time Lady, who is the only one who can wake Time City's founder, Faber John.
Time City, where Jonathan and Sam live, is a futuristic civilization existing outside of time, and observing it closely. And grabbing a person from an unstable era such as "Twenty Century" is a serious offense -- both for them and for Vivian.
The boys hastily disguise her as their cousin Vivian. Jonathan's family welcomes Vivian with open arms, but she still has to get used to a strange world filled with invisible furniture, androids -- and a future timeline for Earth that boggles the mind. But Time City itself is in danger. The timekeeping "polarities" are being stolen, and Faber John's stone is cracking and crumbling. The only ones who can save the City are the three children.
"A Tale of Time City" is a complex story -- sometimes too much, since all the time-hopping, weird eras and secondary characters get rather confusing for the reader. However, it's the GOOD kind of "complex," with constant twists and mysteries interwoven into a simple sci-fantasy story, set in a futuristic city that is anchored OUTSIDE time itself.
Jones sculpts a plausible timekeeping civilization, with all sorts of weird details that Vivian has to accustom herself to (strange foods, robots, clothing, customs). She unfolds the plot gradually like a scroll, revealing surprises embedded in the surface as it rolls out, but with plenty of kooky humor and wry dialogue (the "hunt the slipper!" scene).
Vivian is a likable protagonist in the classic British kids' lit mold -- a plucky preteen with plenty of guts and an iron spine, sort of like a modernized version of a C.S. Lewis heroine (and one suspects that the opening scenes were a homage to Lewis). Jonathan is a likable if sometimes bumbling kid with an earnest desire to help Time City, and Elio is a pleasant "good android" sidekick for them. Sam's obsession with pies gets a bit annoying, though.
Out of Diana Wynne-Jones' colorful bibliography, "A Tale of Time City" is one of her most underrated stories -- a clever, witty sci-fantasy with plenty of twists. ...more